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BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
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He worked too on honing the
skills he had long ago acquired, but which had been mostly dormant
in Paris and had come back to the surface only briefly during the
hunt for al-Hamsi. He found a nearby shooting range and got to know
his Glock quite intimately. He took the Lexus beyond the borders of
the city and found empty rural roads on which to drive too fast and
make dangerous turns in preparation for times when he might be
pursued or have to do the chasing himself. On other days, he went
out into the city, chose a person at random, and followed them as
long as he could while still being certain that they had taken no
notice of him and became not the least bit suspicious. With most
subjects of such exercises, he stayed on the trail for hours
without obstacle. Richard Monroe was finding that he was still
quite good at what he did. But he knew that practice runs were only
empty exercises. The real test would come when Mr. Nine called. The
only real proof of skill was survival when the odds were at their
highest against you. Monroe looked forward to the day the game
became real again, the time the stakes went high once
more.

After several weeks of
settling in, he decided that he missed human contact and
socialization. He suddenly wished to meet his neighbors, perhaps
find a friend or two, and maybe even the company of a lady, though
nothing too serious. That had never been his style, except for the
one moment that had lasted five too-short years.

The complication, he
realized, was that anyone he met would inevitably express curiosity
about his line of work. He needed a cover story, a faux profession.
It had to be realistic but uninteresting, something that would
satisfy the question’s asker without exciting them and increasing
the curiosity. In other words, an accountant would be appropriate
though perhaps too boring, while a private investigator would be
too attention-grabbing. Something in the middle was what he
needed.

 

***

 


So what is it you do, Rick?
For a living, I mean.”

By the time the question was
finally asked, three weeks after Monroe had begun setting up his
new life in Boston, he had an answer ready.


I’m a marketing
consultant,” he said before taking another sip of his red wine as
he reclined on the couch with the redhead.


All right,” she said, and
Monroe saw that it had worked. ‘Marketing consultant,’ sounded
moderately impressive but vague enough that the questioner was
unclear what to ask about it, how to turn it into a point of
conversation. Good.

Her name was Theresa
O’Rourke and her hair was as red as her Irish name would suggest.
She was about thirty-five, Monroe estimated, although he would not
ask. She was tall, appropriately curved in all the right ways, and
had a brain of the artsy variety, although some business sense had
crept in there somewhere along the line. She ran an art gallery. A
week earlier, Monroe had gone shopping for something to decorate
the penthouse. The owner of the gallery where he’d made his first
purchase was ten years older than him and solidly married, but his
charm had its effect on her and she got ideas about matching him up
with one of her younger colleagues. So Monroe had been invited to a
dinner party and accepted despite the fact that his instincts
screamed, “set-up!”

But the food had been
excellent and the conversation had a few peaks of wit before
plunging down into pretentiousness. It had worked out well though,
for by the time the talk had fizzled, he already had Theresa
interested and she followed him back to his place, her hybrid
trailing his Lexus all the way home.

She liked the apartment, but
said it needed a little more stuff, a point against which Monroe
could not argue. They talked a bit, he poured the wine, and he
worried about upsetting her if she stayed the night and he later
had to tell her he was not ready for anything serious again. But he
pushed the worry aside, determined to enjoy the evening, and was
just about to lean in and kiss her when the cell phone in his
jacket, which was hung on the back of a nearby chair, began to have
a fit.

He had to answer. Who had
his number? The woman who had held the dinner party certainly would
not call so soon to see how he and Theresa had gotten along, and he
had not made many other acquaintances in Boston yet, and it was
late in the evening now, so it had to either be some cold-calling
sales pitch, or it was Mr. Nine.


Excuse me just a moment,”
Monroe said, sliding away and getting up. He reached into the
jacket, took out the phone, glanced at the display and saw this:
IX

Nine!


Hello,” he answered the
call.


Sorry to call so late,
Monroe,” said the voice of the old soldier. “It’s time. Here’s what
I need you to do. Get your gun and pack for a few days on the road.
If it’s longer, you can always buy more stuff as you go. Get in
your car and take the King’s Highway south. Once you’re on the
road, you can put the phone on speaker-mode and I’ll brief you as
you drive. In the car, I can be sure you’re alone. Now ditch the
girl and get going, Monroe.”


How did you know I
was…?”


Educated guess,” Mr. Nine
said, and he hung up.


You’re about to send me on
my way, aren’t you?” Theresa asked, already rising from the couch.
“You’re eyes went urgent as you took that call.”


I’m sorry,” Monroe said, “I
really am, but business, you know.”


Another time, then,” she
told him as she brushed a strand of red hair back from her cheek
and kissed him once, lightly, before walking out the
door.

Monroe wasted no time once
he was alone. Packing rapidly was a skill common to all agents,
spies, and similar men. The case was ready in minutes, the Glock
loaded and snug in the shoulder holster, and Richard Monroe was out
the door, still in the suit he had worn to dinner, pulling on a
recently purchased trench coat as he went. He ticked off the mental
checklist as he took the elevator down to the garage. Gun, spare
ammo already in the car, clothing, toiletries, phone, cash, keys.
All set. The game was on, it seemed, and Monroe’s face lit up like
that of a kid on Christmas morning.

 

***

 

The King’s Highway, a
historically significant route, begins in Boston, runs down through
Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and finally ends in Charleston,
South Carolina. As Monroe began his trek, he turned the phone to
its speaker setting and placed it on the seat beside him, eager for
Mr. Nine to call back, burning to know what the job was.

Monroe drove south. Traffic
was light at such a late hour and the road went by quickly,
smoothly under the wheels. Finally, after his anticipation had
grown to a raging fever, the phone buzzed and Monroe reached over
to answer the call. The voice came through and the exchange began,
between two men, one driving, and the other just a ghost-like voice
in the night.


Tell me, Monroe,” Mr. Nine
said, “what do you know about assisted suicide?”


It’s been a rather
controversial topic in recent decades,” Monroe answered, “brought
to the forefront of current affairs by men like Jack Kevorkian.
Personally, sir, I have no issue with the idea as long as it’s not
done lightly. If some poor soul’s terminally ill and wants to end
it all before the pain gets too unbearable, who am I to argue with
such a personal decision?”


I’m inclined to agree, but
sometimes such things can get a bit different in the more shadowy
sectors of society.”


What do you
mean?”


Imagine, if you will, a
sort of Dr. Kevorkian with a high-powered sniper rifle?”


A bullet instead of the
usual injection of lethal drugs, you mean?”


Precisely,” said Mr.
Nine.


Unorthodox, I suppose,”
Monroe said, “and sure to raise even more controversy, but is it
really so different than the drugs, despite the surface violence of
such a method, never mind the mess that would need cleaning up
after the deed was done?”


Well Monroe, have you ever
heard, in your time in the community, mention of a man known as
Simon Scythe?”


I can’t say I have, sir,
but a moniker like that must obviously be a code and not a legal
name.”


Precisely; we have no idea
what his real name might be, or his age or race or background. In
fact, his very existence is only a theory, but a crack in that
mystery may have recently appeared…and that’s where you come into
it.”


Keep going, sir. You’ve got
my full attention, except the ounce of care needed to keep the car
on the road.”


There have been over a
dozen cases over the past decade or so which seem to point to the
existence of what you might call an assassin for hire who kills the
person who paid him rather than a target separate from the
commissioner of the task. Now bear in mind that proof is sparse,
but we do have this: various cases of a person suddenly being
picked off by a sniper, usually in a public place, while in most
cases there wasn’t much to be found in the way of a motive for
anyone to want them dead. Also, there was depression or some other
form of mental illness in many of the victims and each one recently
had a large sum of money slip out of their possession. To give you
a few examples, a man going through a divorce he did not want, who
was by all accounts of those who knew him despondently heartbroken,
is shot on the courthouse steps a moment after the divorce was made
official by the judge. A terminally ill athlete who hadn’t told
anyone about his imminent death is gunned down on the field after
scoring a game-winning goal, going out on top for certain. I could
list a few more fairly mundane examples, happening in locations all
over the United States, and we don’t know if there have been more
cases like this in other parts of the world. Still, a sniper
blowing away college jocks, accountants, and housewives wouldn’t
really concern the top intelligence agencies, but we believe Simon
Scythe, as one of the FBI’s clever boys nicknamed him, had his hand
in the Thomas Wakatu affair. You do recall that, don’t you,
Monroe?”


Yes, sir,” Monroe answered,
ticking off the pertinent details from memory. “Wakatu was prime
minister of a small African nation, assassinated during a
diplomatic visit to the United States three years ago. His death
set off a nasty little revolution in his country, a complete coup
if I recall correctly. Lots of death, some heat here for our Secret
Service not managing to prevent it. And you think this Scythe
fellow was involved?”


It’s possible,” Mr. Nine
said. “We had inside information at the time that Thomas Wakatu was
acting quite strangely, angrily, depressively even. We actually had
a close watch on him when he arrived because we thought there might
be a possibility of suicide with collateral damage: a suicide
bombing or some such mess. But as it turns out, somebody else did
the job for him. So there we have the problem, Monroe: if Simon
Scythe just went around killing those insignificant civilians who
wanted off the merry-go-round of life, men in my profession
wouldn’t much need to worry about it, but if he’s willing to insert
himself into political affairs, as the Wakatu shooting seems to
suggest, then his existence becomes more problematic.”


But, sir,” Monroe asked,
“if he presumably killed Thomas Wakatu three years ago, why are we
paying so much attention to him now? It seems like a long delay,
even if there was a lot of red tape in the way. Why not go after
him sooner?”


We did, of course,” Mr.
Nine answered, “but the damn scoundrel was untraceable. Nobody
could figure out where the victims heard about him and once the job
was done they were all too dead for us to ask them. They must have
paid him in cash, because all the money was always withdrawn
instead of being routed anywhere. Simon Scythe has been, for all
intents and purposes, like one very deadly ghost. But now, he seems
to have made a mistake. The bastard’s botched a job! He’s missed!
And we’ve been lucky enough to isolate the person we think he was
hired to kill but didn’t quite finish off.”


And has this person
admitted to hiring him?” Monroe asked.


No,” Mr. Nine said. “In
fact, she doesn’t even know there are suspicions about it. As far
as she knows, the police don’t have a clue as to who shot
her.”


And I suppose that’s where
I come in,” Monroe guessed.


Certainly,” Mr. Nine
confirmed. “You start with this woman, see if you can figure out if
she really did manage to hire this Scythe, and then use whatever
information you get there to find out who he really is, hunt him
down, and get rid of him.”


No arrest requested,
sir?”


Monroe, you know perfectly
well that I didn’t bring you back into the game to arrest people.
That’s what the publicly known agencies are for. Find the son of a
bitch and put a bullet in his brain and get him off the scene for
good.”

Monroe sighed. He didn’t
really enjoy killing, but he understood. “So where do I find this
survivor, sir?”

BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
7.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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